Sunday, March 22, 2009

Determinism and Determinists

Steve has responded in our ongoing discussion on choice and determinism.

Steve: I’ve been busy with more important business, such as my review of Ehrman’s silly new book.

Thanks for responding to Ehrman's blasphemies.

Steve: Moreover, I’ve already corrected him on his misstatement that determinism rules out possible alternatives. That’s demonstrably false. In supralapsarian Calvinism, for example, God chose a particular means to achieve a particular end. There were other possible ends, with corresponding means available to him, but he chooses the end that best furthers his purpose (i.e. the glorification of God in the glorification of the elect).

Determinism does rule out possible alternatives. Calvinism isn't equivalant to determinism. Granted some Calvinists hold to exhaustive determinism - the ones who deny God's LFW. But Calvinists who affirm God's LFW deny exhaustive determinism. Granted, for these Calvinists, God not man has LFW. But to the extent that God has LFW, determinism isn't exhaustive.

Steve: Once again, here is Kane’s definition:“A choice is the formation of an intention or purpose to do something,”How is that an especially technical or philosophical definition–much less a definition distinctive to Kane’s action theory?

I had already explained this to Paul, but here goes...

Kane’s theorizes that while we are simultaneously making efforts to choose two different things, indeterministic chaos in the neural networks of the brain hinders both efforts. The two attempted choices push up against each other and create indeterminism. The “winner” is the choice. For Kane, the indeterminism isn’t in the source of the choice, but rather it’s an obstacle to making choices. (Kane, For Views on Free Will, ed. Sosa, Blackwell, 2008, p35)

How does this relate to Kane's definition of a choice? Kane needs a definition of choice that works with determinism, because at least to some degree, choices work deterministically in his system. He leaves off "alternatives" becauce they don't fit his system. For Kane, indeterminism isn't an intrisic part of the process of developing one choice, rather it's a side effect of the parallel development of two choices. In fact, Kane holds that some choices are predetermined (while others are not). You find Kane's definition agreeable, because for Kane, choice must fit within a deterministic system.

Steve: Let’s compare two definitions of choice:a) ”A choice is the formation of an intention or purpose to do something” (Kane).b) ”A choice involves the power to instantiate alternate possibilities” (Dan).

My comment was not a definition.

Steve: But suppose, for the sake of argument, that Kane’s definition were a technical definition. So what?

Kane's definition is fine for discussions, after the definition is understood. It's just not a good idea to assume it's the definition of scriptural terms.


Steve: As I’ve also pointed out to Dan, dictionary definitions include technical definitions as well as popular definitions. It’s quite arbitrary for Dan to cite the dictionary as his frame of reference, then arbitrarily restrict what definitions are “suitable.”

This seems at odds with Steve's claims that "Dan is overinterpreting lexical usage and trying to abstract the end-result from the process" and "A dictionary is a vicious hermeneutical circle." How is it that my approach is "selectivly technical" and "hicksville" at the same time?

The dictionary reports a common usage of the term choose, which just happens to rule out determinism. I am not really being all that selective. I simply googled choose and dictionary and dictionary.com's "to select from a number of possibilities" was the first definition in the first link. Granted, at this point I have looked at bunches of dictionaries, but most either use "possiblities" or "alternatives" or both. If I am being techincal, it's because the common usage is technical.

Steve: For Dan to reject [Kane's] definition is special pleading in excelsis.

Kane is unique, even among libertarian phlosophers.

Steve: And even on its own terms, it’s problematic to include “execution of choice” in your concept of choice–considering the fact that a finite agent often fails to execute his choice.

Maybe, but that's what the dictionary seems to be doing. I believe "failed attempts" wouldn't qualify as choices under the dictionary method, since the belief that X was possible was false. Semantically, I can see a case for that. It's a bit awkward to say I choose something, when I wasn't able to execute the choice. If a linebacker stops him, we might say "Romo wanted to cross the goal line", but we wouldn't normally say "Romo chose to cross the goal".

Now perhaps this is a failing in the dictionary. Perhaps the dictionary should only talk about things we think are possible (which may or may not be possible), rather than taking about things that are possible. But that's not what it does.

Steve: ”Selection between possible alternatives” is a mental act involving deliberation. Resolving on one alternative is also a mental act. That’s irrelevant to the extramental structure of the world. That’s a psychological claim, not an ontological claim.

No. This is the switcharoo to square the dictionary with determinism. Steve exhanges possibilities for what we think are possilities. The exhange is quite subtle and easy to overlook, but it's there.

A determinist wouldn't even think they were possibilities; she would think they might be possibilities, only as a result of our her ignorance of what has been predetermined. So a possibility is being exhanged for "I don't know if this is a possibility or not".

Steve: Dan was forced to admit that there’s absolutely no empirical evidence for LFW. His fallback was to invoke intuitive evidence for LFW.

That's not my argument. I have always taken LFW on faith. Let me give some background here.... About a year ago Gene challanged Arminians for an exegetical argument for LFW. I offered to debate him on the topic. He declined. A few months ago he repeated the challenge, and again I offered to debate him. He again declined, but Paul and I did have a brief exhange. This lead to a more extensive exhange, which you have picked up on. So my core argument, from the begining is this:

P1: The bible says people have wills and choose
P2: But choosing rules out determinism
C1: Therefore, the bible rules out determinism.

P1 is obvious. Some folkes have pointed out that the bible talks about God choosing more often than it talks about man choosing, but even a single instance of the bible saying man chooses substaniates P1.

I supported P2 based on the dictionary, with hooks back into biblical usage based on modern scholarship and ancient Jewish opinion. What I have received back so far has been 1) counterdefinitions and 2) attempts to reconcile the dictionary with determinism. This has been the main battle ground. My reponse to #1 has been that while counterdefinitions exist they are either tautological or technical and neither are useful for understanding scripture. My response to #2 is that the attempts to reconcile determinism with the dictionary fail, and only look successful due to the switcharoo.

My use of "intuition" was only to respond to the question of why the "switcharoo" wasn't common sense.

Steve: That, however, would require a one-to-one correspondence between the hypothetical options we thought were within our power to realize, and what we could actually achieve. Failed attempts destroy the intuitive evidence for LFW since they demonstrate that Dan’s intuitive criterion is unreliable.

If choice requires a one-to-one correspondence, then only cases with a one-to-one correspondence are choices. "Failed attempts" wouldn't be choices. Of course, if determinism is true, there is never a one-to-one correspondence, so we never choose. But if LFW is true, sometimes there is a one-to-one correspondence, and so sometimes we choose. So even if we grant the argument regarding failed attemps (which I don't), it still doesn't eliminate LFW, it simply limits the cases in which we choose to a smaller subset.

Steve: Dan is not a classic Arminian. To the contrary, Dan is a Molinist.

I am not sure how Molinism is relivant to the current discussion, but in any case Steve's statement is a false dichotomy - a person can be both classic Arminian and Molinist.

Steve: But Molinism is at odds with Dan’s definition of choice. In Molinism, God is the only agent who can instantiate alternate possibilities. It’s God who determines which possible world to actualize, not the human agent.In Molinism, human choice is purely counterfactual. There’s a possible world in which Dan does A, another possible world in which Dan does B, yet another possible world in which Dan does C, and so on. But the Dan of each possible world lacks the power to instantiate these alternatives. The human agent is not the agent that instantiates a possible world. Only God can do that. So the human agent lacks access to alternate possibilities.In Molinism, God chooses which possibility to instantiate, not the human agent. God chooses in light of what the human agent would do, but the human agent, in a possible world, isn’t free to make that happen himself. For a human agent in a possible world has no objective existence. A possible agent is not a real agent. A possible agent can’t do a thing. b) What is more, once God chooses which possible world to instantiate, the agent has no freedom to do otherwise in the actual world to which he belongs. The freedom of choice representing possible worlds might be significant if, in addition, a Molinist agent had the freedom to choose which choice would be actualized. But since he lacks that complementary freedom, the freedom which the Molinist scheme imputes to him is quite illusory. c) Summing up, a Molinist agent lacks the freedom to choose between one possible world and another. That’s because each possible world (or world segment) represents a choice (or set of choices, involving other agents as well). Within each possible world, a Molinist agent only has one choice available to him. They pair off: one alternate choice per world, where a possible world (or world-segment) corresponds to an alternate choice. And in the actual world, a Molinist agent only has one choice available to him. That’s because the actual world selects for that particular choice to the exclusion of other possibilities. In a possible world, or in the actual world, all other possibilities are inaccessible to the world-bound agent. The real freedom belongs to God, who chooses which possible world to instantiate. A Molinist agent doesn’t get to choose the actual world in which he will find himself. He’s stuck with God’s choice. Hence, a Molinist agent has precious little freedom.

I am not quite sure if this was intended as a "reducto ad absurdem" argument against Molinism or a description of Molinism. If it's a description, it's an incorrect summary of Molinism.

God does not choose between possible worlds, He chooses between hypotheticals (sometimes called feasible worlds). Further, the agent is able to choose between possible worlds. God knows they will not (and would not), but they still can choose other possible worlds. God's choice (decree) does not elimitate the alternative possibilities. I think Steve is confusing "would" with "can".

Here's how it works. Let's say there are 3 possible worlds (one in which I choose chocolate, a second in which I choose vanilla, and a third in which the I don't even go to the ice cream parlor.)
God looks at the set of worlds and "runs a hypothetical scenario" in which I am in the ice cream parlor. The result is hypothetical Dan, who can choose either chocolate or vanilla, chooses chocolate. God says, "that's what I want", and He creates that world.

God created the world He saw in the scenario and it's just like the world in the scenario. In the scenario, hypothetical Dan was able to choose chocolate or vanilla (i.e. had access to 2 possible worlds), so actual Dan can choose chocolate or vanilla (i.e. has access to 2 possible worlds).

Steve: It [hypothetical options] can mean I imagine a number of ostensible alternatives. I contemplate different flavors. And it can also mean deciding to eat one flavor rather than another, or deciding to refrain from eating any flavor. These are mental acts. And there’s no equipollent relation between what I can conceive and what I can do.

It's a switcharoo to change from things we can do to things we think we can do, but bypassing that... alternatives are two or more things we can choose, not two or more things we can do, but bypassing that as well... If determinism is true, we don't have alternatives and if one is a determinist, he can't think he has alternatives.

How can they appear to be alternatives, if one believes in determinism? If determinism is true, a person can't choose otherwise. But if a person is a determinist, he can't think he can choose otherwise. He can't think he can choose either chocolate or vanilla. His ignorance of what he has been predetermined to do may lead him to think "I might be able to eat chocolate but if so, I can't eat vanilla and I might be able to eat vanilla, but if so I can't eat chocolate", but he couldn't consistently think of chocolate and vanilla as alternative possibilities.

If libertarianism is true, there sometimes is and sometimes isn't an equipollent; if determinism is true, there's never an equipollent. But if a person is a determinist, it makes no sense to even think they have alternatives. Since alternatives are a part of the definition of choosing, the definition of choose rule out determinism. But even the retreated (switcharoo) understanding of alternatives to "what we thought were alternatives" doesn't work. Since it makes no sense for a determinist to think he has alternatives, it makes no sense for a determinist to think he can choose.

Dan: Normally people think we are able to choose otherwise before the choice but not after the choice. This seems due to time and perhaps also cause and effect. But in any case, normally we think possibilities lapse. No crying over spilt milk. Steve seems to be calling this into question. One can only speculate as to why.Does he think God time-travels? Does he disregard time as we know it? Does he think maybe we will wake up tomorrow and God chose Esau all along?

Steve: Remember what I said in my previous post? “Of course, depending on whether the agent is human or divine, choice will involve different preconditions. Since God is timeless, his mind was never in a state of uncertainty or indecision. His intent or purpose is timeless. Due to his omnipotence, various alternatives were available to him. Many things were possible. But it took no time for him to ‘form’ an intention or purpose. It’s a timeless intention.”

I agree with this statement, but it doesn't answer my questions or explain your statement about time-travel or lingering possibilites.

Dan: we have the freedom to choose otherwise than we will choose and had the freedom to choose otherwise than we did. If God alone had LFW (the uniwiller theory) and has issued one simple, eternal decree, all possibilities should be spoken of in the past tense.

Steve: That’s an assertion without an argument. A timeless God would employ tensed language when addressing time-bound creatures.

My comment was a description, not argument. Steve attacked a position (the idea that LFW entails the ability to change the past), so I explained that LFW doesn't entail the ability to change the past.

While your previous statement about God and time was one I agreed with and I don't think it explained our differences here; this comment about God's timelessness might. God's decree and/or creation of the world starts time. Once time starts, God is in it. God has alternative possibilities before creation and does not after creation. For man, the change from one moment to the next is associated with the lapse of possibilites. For God, it's the change from being outside of time to being in time.

But let's say you're right and God remains timeless after the inception of time. This leads us to question if time itself is real, since apparently God doesn't see things that way. Further, so long as the decree logically precedes the act, alternative possibilities have still lapsed. Given God's decree, there are no possible alternatives. So it still does not make sense to use possible alternatives (indexed to God) as a core ingredient in defining man's choices (logically and/or temporally after the decree). Further still, one questions if God ever had alternative possibilities (temporally or logically), since they seem to entail change.

Dan: God knows the heart and will judge us based on our choices. We trust Him to take care of the consequences.

Steve: Irrelevant to what I said. This is what I said: “What’s the value of having libertarian freedom if you can never explore the consequences of each alternative in advance of committing yourself to just one course of action?

It's very relevant. The "value" and rewards are eternal, not temporal. Matthew 6:25-34

Steve: Even Dan admits that “remorse” is one of the available definitions.ii) He is also disregarding the implications of a word. There is more at issue than the meaning of a word. When a word attributes a certain attitude to an agent, that carries certain implications. It’s not just a question of what the word means, but what the attitude denoted by the word implies. The word denotes an attitude. What does the attitude imply? Why would God have a change of heart or feel remorse unless he regretted his prior course of action?When we read about people, and certain states of mind are attributed to them, we draw certain inferences. This isn’t just a question of looking up some words in a dictionary. Words don’t exist in isolation to the world they denote. They derive their meaning from the world they denote.

No question remorse is one of the definitions, but it's not the only one. Change of heart and remorse are alternative definitions. You cited some Engish translations that translate naham as sorry, but other versions translate it repent. Interestingly, the newer translations (and dynamic equivalants) tend to go with "sorry", and the older ones tend to favor "repent". The LXX, Vulgate, Tyndale, Webster, KJV, ASV, Youngs, and Darby all go with repent. Translations aside, the Hebrew itself allows for either change of heart or remorse. I disslike "sorry" as a translation, because it's too specific and misses the range of meaning in the Hebrew naham.

The denotation for divine repentance is not the same as it is for God's repentance, unless you think God, like man, sins, and physically reacts. God has a change of heart, not because of His own sins, but due to His hatred of ours. God previously saw mankind and said "it is good", now He sees mankind as only evil. So before He wished to have a creation, now He wishes their destruction. That's the change of heart from one intention to another, and it's not due to God's sins, but man's.

Steve: “God's knowledge is temporally prior but logically after the outcome, so God still foreknows in a temporal sense.”i) From a Molinist standpoint, in what sense is God’s knowledge temporally prior? If God is contemplating possible worlds, then that would be apart from time since time itself would be a result of instantiating a possible world.

At the beginning of time, God knows the whole of time.

Dan: “On the other hand, if God's knowledge isn't based on the outcome, then it's not knowledge of the outcome.”

Steve: This is one of the semantic games that Dan tries to play. And in so doing, he abandons is commitment to common sense and popular usage. In popular parlance, to know the outcome is to know what will happen. However, knowledge of the outcome needn’t be based on the outcome itself.

Not so. In popular usage knowing what will happen means your knowledge of what will happen corresponds to what will happen. Of course, there's usually some degree of uncertainty for us, but we judge the truth or falsehood of future tense propositions based on outcomes. If I said "it will rain tomorrow", one would not say my statement was true, if it does not rain tomorrow, even if at the time I (and everyone else on the planet) had every reason to believe it would rain tomorrow. Even if nature was about to deterministically cause rain and God miraculously intervened and stopped the rain, people would still say my statement was false.

What Steve is talking about doesn't seem to be a common topic of discussion, but it would be better described as knowledge of causal forces and relations rather than knowledge of the future.
Steve: That’s a possible mode of future knowledge. Knowledge of the future after the fact. Of course, that falls short of knowing the future as future. Rather, that’s knowing the future as past. After the fact.

Yes, but knowing it as past, before it happens.

Steve: If knowledge of the outcome is caused by (i.e. “based on”) the outcome, then such knowledge is inherently ex post facto.

Caused and "based on" are not equivalent. The future does not cause God's knowledge, since God's knowledge is immediate. The relation between God's knowledge and the event is logical, not causal. It's closer to that of a definition and a word rather than that of fire burning paper.

Steve: If, on the other hand, the agent is causing the future, then it’s not the outcome that causes his knowledge of the outcome; rather, causing the outcome is the source of his knowledge. God knows the outcome by knowing himself. God knows what is going to happen because God decreed the outcome and God also executes his decree through primary and secondary causation.

That's inductive and can never amout to knowledge of the future. Steve seems to be denying that the future is the basis of truth of statements about the future.

Dan: Finding fault’ is conduct. The passage doesn't say why would God still find fault or if no one resists His will. It says why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?”

Steve: Dan is too flatfooted to appreciate Pauline rhetoric. Rom 9:19 is a counterfactual objection in which, for the sake of argument, a hypothetical opponent takes Paul’s position, as he (the opponent) understands it, to its logical extreme. To think this is a statement of what the opponent actually believes is to get the objection completely backwards. The objection is a reductio ad absurdum of what the opponent takes to be a Pauline premise.

It's interesting Steve thinks I am sticking to the text of Romans 9:19 too closely.

1 comment:

bossmanham said...

I am always amazed at the lengths learned Calvinists will go to in order to justify their belief. They put aside a clear reading of scripture and logical coherence and embrace obscure philosophical notions in order to hold on to their a priori interpretation of predestination and election. Simply amazing.